What’s the alternative approval process?

Local government option exercised rarely in Regional District of Bulkley Nechako.

The alternative approval process (AAP) is a tool available to all local governments in B.C.  Its use is mandated by the 2004 B.C. community charter governing local governments (municipalities and regional districts) throughout the province.

This alternative process for garnering public support is defined by the community charter as an option where voter approval is required, but a full referendum is not desirable.

Practically speaking, this often involves a situation where the cost of a referendum out-strips the budgetary concerns of a particular issue, although the charter also suggests its use in situations where a proposal is non-controversial or time-sensitive.

“The biggest reason is the cost,” said Bill Miller, RDBN director area B. “It’s approximately $20,000 for a referendum, and about $1000 for the alternative [approval process],”

A defeated proposal under the AAP doesn’t necessarily mean a defeat of the proposal. If a local government still wants to proceed after failing an AAP, it must go to a full referendum on the proposal.

It replaced the ‘counter petition opportunity’ in 2004, when the new community charter came into effect. Under the previous rules, a five per cent threshold was in place, although some municipalities had petitioned for that limit to be lifted.

Since the introduction of the new community charter, the RDBN has only used the alternative process once before the current AAP underway.

“The last AAP we conducted was in 2012 for the establishment of a road rescue service in electoral area C (Fort St. James rural),” said RDBN manager of administrative services Cheryl Anderson.

The rescue service proposal amounted to a $0.06 per $1000 of taxable land and improvements, or up to $11,000, whichever was greater.

In that case, the rescuer service was introduced after the responses were below the 10 per cent threshold for rejection.

The AAP underway is for a maximum of $4000 each in areas B and E. For area B, that amounts to $0.02 per $1000 on improvements (not land), and for area E, $0.03 per $1000 on improvements.

Or $4 per year on $200,000 worth of improvements on a property in area B, and $6 per year on $200,000 worth of improvements in area E.

While the RDBN has not used the APP for any proposals with significant dollar values attached, other local governments have not been shy about exercising the option when expediency was the order of the day, even where dollar values were relatively high.

The City of Prince Rupert recently concluded an AAP concerning a $7 million dollar loan for airport maintenance. The City of Nanaimo used an AAP in 2011 to approve   taking on a loan of up to $22.5 million towards the cost of building a water treatment plant.

In both cases, the loans were approved after receipt of very few electoral response forms giving notice of objection.

In Prince Rupert, of the approximately 900 electoral responses it would have taken to fail the AAP, only 3 electoral response forms were submitted against the borrowing proposal.

In Nanaimo, of the 6238 forms that would have represented 10 per cent of the electorate, only three electoral response forms were registered.

Whether or not these low counter-petition numbers show that the process saved much tax payer expense by not organizing a referendum on a non-controversial issue, or whether these low numbers show a failure of the alternative approval process to engage the electorate is an open question for some.

Two city councillors in Prince Rupert went on the record to object to the alternative approval process as failing to engage voters properly. Lakes District News has also printed a local resident’s concern that the process lacks the transparency of a clearly stated referendum question and process.